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by Frank Kermode

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-22636-9
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Renowned scholar Kermode (Not Entitled, 1995) explores the evolution of Shakespeare's language in a friendly, accessible, and choppy romp through the Bard's oeuvre.

From Hamlet to A Winter's Tale, from Julius Caesar to The Tempest, Kermode traces the development of Shakespeare's language from a simple expressiveness to an ornate complexity; in sum, he argues that Shakespeare grew increasingly fascinated by the force of words and his artistic power over them. Kermode begins with a comparison between the verbosity of Titus Andronicus and the taciturnity of Coriolanus; from this vantage point, he discerns Shakespeare's increasing disinterest in rhetorical explicitness and his move to a more reticent display of language. The resulting silences create challenging obscurities and interpretative conundrums that have long bedeviled both audiences and critics; as Kermode writes, `Increasing complexity in the verse of the plays matches increasing subtlety in their construction.` Shakespeare thus appears to be an author as challenging to his contemporaneous Elizabethan audience as to much of his audience today. Although primarily interested in Shakespeare's verse, Kermode also considers the question of the playwright's prose and the ways in which the two forms are mutually implicated; Shakespeare's narrative poems also receive due attention for the ways in which they contribute to his dramatic voice. This book directs its argument to the intelligent lay reader, not the Shakespearean scholar, but the attention to detail in Kermode's reading of Shakespeare's verse should be extended to a scholarly audience as well. Unfortunately, the brevity of his chapters (30 pages for Hamlet, but only 8 for Cymbeline) forecloses the development of his observations into a truly unified whole. We receive insights from a great Shakespearean reader and teacher, but in this case, the reader would be well served with more rather than less.

An excellent survey of Shakespeare's language and its development, handicapped by its shortness, enhanced by its precision.